Mobilizing Canadian interns, e-mentors and ICT to support international development efforts

Country Laos
Focus

When Alyssa Moore was in high school, she travelled with her family to the Dominican Republic. It was the first time she witnessed what she calls “obvious inequality”. Alyssa has been involved in social justice ever since. Her love of travel has taken her around the world and Alyssa has lived and worked in Korea, France, and now, Laos.

Alyssa is an intern in Cuso International’s Securing Sustainable Futures for Youth and Communities Project. This project is funded by Global Affairs Canada (GAC) as part of its International Youth Internship Program (IYIP). From 2015-17, it will offer up to forty (40) internship opportunities to young Canadians in five (5) different countries: Cameroon, Guyana, Laos, Nicaragua and Peru. The internships are varied and involve supporting sustainable economic growth, increasing food security and securing the future of children and youth. Interns are partnered with mentors who provide support and guidance through Cuso International’s innovative new e-volunteering platform.

In her placement, Alyssa is working with the Institute of Foreign Affairs in Vientiane, Laos, where she is updating and teaching a special English curriculum for government officials. The curriculum is geared toward effective communication in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), an organization that promotes growth, development and regional collaboration among Southeast Asian countries.

Veteran volunteer Paulette Schatz mentors Alyssa from her home in Canada. As an adventure-seeking teacher from Saskatchewan, Paulette first volunteered with Cuso International in 1975, where she worked in Nigeria and northern Ghana. Like Alyssa, Paulette has worked around the world; her career has taught her how to observe and adapt to local cultures and practices.

For both Paulette and Alyssa, it was crucial to meet in person before embarking upon their mentor-intern relationship. They met in Ottawa before Alyssa travelled to Laos and decided how they would make their partnership work. Upon meeting Paulette, Alyssa wondered to herself, “How did they find someone so perfect?” During the meeting, the two built an instant rapport and a strong sense of trust, which they would draw on as they worked together.

Due to the 12-hour time difference between Alyssa and Paulette, the duo decided to communicate via email rather than Skype. During their weekly exchanges, Paulette would ask Alyssa about her work and any challenges she was facing. Alyssa felt comfortable seeking advice and opinions from Paulette on how to navigate her new workplace and host community. Paulette challenged Alyssa to read widely and take on additional projects, like writing a case study about the cultural aspects of gender in her new work environment.

As well as advising Alyssa on her volunteer assignment, Paulette also got her thinking about her future. “Paulette asked me where I see myself in ten (10) years and I didn’t know,” says Alyssa. “Seeing her career showed me that you can combine the different areas you’re interested in to make your own career path.”

The mark of a productive mentor-intern relationship is when the mentor grows as well as the intern. Over the course of her placement, Paulette has become more confident with electronic communication and is considering starting her own blog. Best of all, Paulette has gotten a glimpse of the future…and it looks bright! “It’s encouraging for someone my age to see who will be running the world,” says Paulette. “I’m happy to leave it in Alyssa’s hands.”

Inspired by Alyssa’s story? Check out our listing of current e-volunteering opportunities on the Cuso International website.